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Asking what the future holds for women

Former Labour MSP MARLYN GLEN reports on a useful meeting at Edinburgh University that has been misrepresented in the media

ASKING what the future holds for women might seem non-controversial but the meeting held at the University of Edinburgh on Women’s Sex-based Rights: What Does (and should) the Future Hold? brought out a big crowd, including academics, cross-party MSPs, activists, Trade Unionists, workers from the women’s sector and students - some in their teens.

The attraction was an exceptional panel who all spoke calmly and rationally, were respectful but plain-speaking and were looking for solutions to an increasingly worrying challenge.

Interestingly for an event at a university, there was very visible security and the audience members were processed thoroughly using photo identification. There was a mainly silent, peaceful protest on the other side of the street but sadly the security was necessary to protect one of the speakers when she exited.

However, the event inside was calm and positive, with excellent hosting and chairing by the School of Education, meaning that questions from the floor were all taken and answered in a friendly manner even from those who profoundly disagreed with the speakers.

The speakers were headed up by Professor of Law Rosa Freedman, who set out the law, from a UN human rights perspective. Everyone has human rights but some have additional vulnerabilities. Rosa made it clear that any discussion has to define its terms clearly and use legally correct definitions to proceed without confusion.

Philosopher Dr Louise Moody set the audience intriguing questions around the lack of definition of “gender-identity”: a concept which seems to rely upon restrictive stereotypical roles, with only subjective backing. (There were a sizeable number of the audience who were not just gender critical but who would go further and describe themselves as gender abolitionists.) 

Louise outlined how we might “all arrive at a more robust and clear conception of gender identity that is compatible with, and upholds, women’s sex-based rights.”

Professor Sarah Pederson talked about Mumsnet as a rare space for gender critical discussion and as an example of a “subaltern counterpublic,” a concept developed by Nancy Fraser, in contrast to Habermas’s concept of the public sphere which too often excludes women and is mostly only accessible to white, privileged males.

Lucy Hunter Blackburn, policy analyst of MurrayBlackburnMackenzie, outlined how just two years after the well-received Angiolini Report on women in prison, and with no Equality Impact Assessment, it was agreed to move transwomen into women’s prisons. Blackburn quoted the Scottish Trans Alliance as stating that this was “strategised,” to begin with prisons, and then move on to other public sectors. The results of this have been detailed in the Women and Girls Scotland Report.

Claire Heuchan, a young black Scottish lesbian blogger and author, spoke about fear – specifically the terror inflicted on women who speak openly on these issues, bringing a personal dimension to the discussion. This theme was continued by the final speaker, Julie Bindel.

A journalist and founder of Justice for Women, who supports and advocates on behalf of women who have fought back against or killed violent men, Bindel focused on the ubiquity of male violence against women around the world and the fear of that violence, which links all women.

Sadly, media reporting of this excellent, thought-provoking event concentrated on the male transgender person who allegedly tried to attack Julie as she left the venue. Apparently the irony was lost on them!

This was an uplifting discussion on sex-based oppression, and the sex-based protections we, as women, are afforded in law: a feminist issue, which should cut across all divisions, whether between or within parties.  More events like this are needed. The video of the event will be available online.

Marlyn Glen is former Labour MSP for North East Scotland.


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